Longtime Wilmington City Councilman Trippi Congo has thrown his hat into the ring to be Wilmington's next city council president.
Congo, who now lives in the Eighth District, withdrew from the race for an at large seat on council in the eleventh hour and, instead, filed to run for the top spot on deadline day, July 17, 2020.
Congo, who's been on council for 12 years, said people had been encouraging him to run for quite some time.
"I would feel terrible if council had to go what we have gone through the last four years, and I didn't even try," he said.
Councilman Congo's entry into the race led to Councilwoman Rysheema Dixon's exit.
"We both want the same thing, we just want a change," he said. "People became concerned with Councilwoman Dixon's ability to beat Council President Hanifa Shabazz--not saying that's a knock against Councilwoman Dixon at all--but they didn't think she was known well enough in the community," he said. "It wasn't really anything against her. I'm from here, I was born here, I was raised here."
Dixon is instead running for re-election to her at large seat.
If elected, Congo said he'll allow council members to all feel like equal contributors. For as long as he's been on council, he said the council president has always commandeered many aspects of business from committee selection to hiring staff.
"We're supposed to hire as a group; we're supposed to potentially fire as a group; we're supposed to decide how we work, internally, as a group, and the president has always kind of assumed that role and not allow council to do it. A few of us on council said since we know better, let's do better....so some of us said we don't want to do as previous councils, we want to do it in a way that everybody is included," he said. "I want all of us as a council to make decisions."
Congo, if elected, said he'll be a strong listener as he seeks to restore transparency to council and better its reputation.
"If I am the next council president, the community will view us differently. Right now, I don't think council is as respected in the community as it could be because they see a lot of in-fighting, but hopefully, with me in that seat, that would all cease, and we can do better internally, so externally, we're seen...in a better light."
He pointed to inner-workings that have led to council members being unable to do their jobs.
"So many times within these past four years, different legislation from council members, it has been held and...hasn't been allowed to even come to the table for us to discuss it," he said. "Once all council members feel they are all equal--in whatever we want to talk about--it can be talked about publicly and we can either vote it up or down, but to hold legislation, I think is wrong."
He said the practice has led to legislation theft--a complaint also lodged by Councilman Sam Guy in recent months.
"This actually happened to me. So I had the legislation for body cameras, originally, but now if you notice, I'm not the sponsor for that anymore; Councilman Freel is, and I just think that's wrong. That has happened to different council members--not only myself...I just think that isn't fair...there's no justification for it....I think it's political honestly, but there's no reason why that shouldn't still be my legislation."
Over his years on council, Congo said he's most proud of first introducing legislation to outfit Wilmington Police officers with body cameras. While unsuccessful at the time, Congo said the the issue is finally gaining traction in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"I sponsored legislation late last year that...the city police department should have body cameras. Everybody on council and some people in the administration didn't agree, and unfortunately, it failed. Now, it's kind of, it's sad that those same people who did not approve of it before, now want it, and it's only because...so many more people are paying attention now. The protests and the riots, they kind of opened everyone's eyes."
At the time, the legislation didn't even get out of committee.
"Now, everybody's for it, and it's a shame because their concerns were financial, but now we're in a even worse financial situation because of COVID, but now they what it, so that's very frustrating. If it were really financially motivated, then why want it now, but not last year when we had millions of more dollars to be able to afford the program?" he asked.
Before it becomes a reality, body cameras still need to be negotiated as part of the FOP contract.
He's also touted efforts to increase diversity among the Wilmington Police force.
"Our police department is about 30 percent minority, but the city of Wilmington is around 70 percent, and that's always been one of my major concerns, since I've been on council," he said. "It's sad, but even that was met with some push-back from council and from the administration, to the point, where it had to come before us twice, but we held steadfast, and we were committed and terminated to have the police department give us a plan for diversity before they started another class."
While it's out of the city's purview, Congo said he'll advocate for Wilmington to have its own school district.
"I think that Wilmington desperately needs its own school district, and I think we have to fight as a team--the administration and council--and we have to demand that the legislators in Dover fund us properly and give us our own school district, build new schools, and make education a priority...we're never going to see a reduction in crime; we're never going to see a reduction in poverty if we don't educate our children--starting honestly, in day care. We really have to take a look at almost regulating day care because once a child gets into first grade, a lot of times they're already behind the eight ball," he said.
He'll also push for a community center in every district.
"For children to be able to feel safe, for children to be able to go and learn, and not only to play basketball...but take different classes whether it's sewing, learning how to build, whether it's learning how to fix a car, I think those community centers have to take on a whole new dynamic."
And whoever the next mayor is, Congo said he'll work with them, but cautioned:
"My duty is to listen to what the public says, what the community says, and if the next administration and the next council can see eye-to-eye on major topics like body cameras, it's wonderful. But I'm not ever going to sell-out my community just to please who the next mayor is."
Congo faces incumbent President Hanifa Shabazz in the September primary.